Equipping the Saints: Leaders, Doers, and Community


This will be my final post in the Equipping the Saints series. I could probably write on Christian Education issues forever, but I have other things to say, so I’m going to wrap this up for now.

Strangely, one of the things I’ve been accused of during this series is failing to talk about educating Christians outside of mere Bible knowledge. Obviously, that accusation must come from people who don’t regularly read this blog. As I see it, I mostly write about Church issues that have little to do with teaching the Bible and everything to do with the practice of the faith. Cerulean Sanctum exists to talk about how we Christians can more effectively live out the faith in a practical way.

And that’s what today’s post is about.

I find this to be one of the most telling verses in the Bible:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
—Judges 17:6

What makes this verse even more intriguing is that it is duplicated later in Judges 21:25. You don’t see that too often in the Scriptures. The writer of Judges certainly has a point to make!

I’ve heard the latter portion of that verse quoted slightly out of context by teachers attempting to make a point about sin. Well, I can see that a little, but the modifier for that second sentence comes from the one that precedes it.

Israel, in the era of the judges, lacked consistent leadership. The nation had no direction. We see why here:

Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.
—1 Samuel 3:1

And we see the outcome of that lack here:

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.
—Proverbs 29:18

Without visionary leadership plugged into what God is doing, a church simply cannot grow its people deeper in Christ. The success or failure of most churches rests on their leadership.

This is not to say that an anointed leader can’t be done in by external forces, such as church squabbles and other leaders seeking glory for themselves. But whether or not a church makes genuinely deep disciples who know Christ and minister Him through the power of the Gospel and the gifts of the Spirit rests largely on the leadership and its vision.

It worked for Jesus:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
—John 5:19

Jesus connected with the Father and grabbed the vision. So if Jesus is our model, how then can we excuse ourselves from imitating His lead of only doing what He sees the Father doing??

Yet how many leaders know the doings of God? They might know what they are doing, but if that doesn’t align with God’s direction, forget it; the whole enterprise will fail. (Or it might succeed ever so slightly in the flesh so that it becomes a norm that people equate with success, which results in a lowest common denominator measure of future successes that bears no resemblance to what God can make happen.)

This lack of leadership clued into God’s intent defines the state of Evangelicalism in the 21st century. But without God-directed leadership, making disciples will forever be a hit or miss proposition.

It simply doesn’t have to be that way.

As for the people in the seats, their role is doing. We assume leaders are doers, but are their charges?

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
—James 1:22

We can teach the Bible until we drop dead of exhaustion, but it will be for naught if the people who receive it do nothing with it. The Bible isn’t meant to exist in a vacuum, but some people make it so. I know in some parts of Evangelicalism, people treat the Bible like a Bible Bowl contest and even award kids for how much they know. Honestly, that’s worthless unless it’s paired with actually living what the Bible says.

One of the most abused verses in the Bible:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
—2 Timothy 3:16-17

I think it’s abused because many Christians will go on and on about how Scripture is God’s word and we should know it, but they then neglect the purpose of God for knowing it: good works.

Folks, that’s the end goal of knowledge of the Bible. Everything you and I read in the Bible is intended to equip us to be doers. That’s why James’ admonition is so powerful. Absorbing Bible teaching after Bible teaching yet doing nothing with that teaching is wicked! It’s a lie we tell ourselves about our maturity, because we base that maturity solely on what we know, not on what we do because of what we know.

I am perpetually amazed by the martyr Stephen. Here he was whip smart in the Scriptures and filled with the Holy Spirit, yet his job ensured the people forgotten by the rest of his culture were waited on at table. And he didn’t discharge that waiting to some lesser; he did it himself.

In our day, we would call that a waste. But Stephen didn’t think so. Nor did the apostles who chose him for that role. All had caught the greater vision of knowing the Scriptures. And when time came for Stephen to die by the hands of those who hated him for what he practiced, what he knew came out in full force. So that even as he was dying, he was doing the work of an apologist and evangelist.

Doing ensures learning. Tell me something and I might retain some general knowledge. But let me do based on what I have learned, and I will grow deeper. That’s how it works. God intends for us to do what we know so that we put down spiritual roots and can take on even more responsibility in learning and doing.

Do we want revelation by the Holy Spirit in our lives? Rather than trying to snatch mystical revelations out of thin air, why not just do what the revelation of the Scriptures has already told us to do? How can anyone expect to hear the Holy Spirit speaks some charismatic revelation if that person fails to do what the in-hand revelation of the Holy Bible has already said to do?

Feed the poor. Visit the sick and dying. Minister grace to the prisoner. Share Christ with others. I can guarantee that if we do those things the Lord commanded in the Scriptures we will understand what the Bible means in a greater way. Doing is its own learning. It’s the on-the-job training that takes everything we know already from the Bible and sets the Spirit’s fire to it, making it real in the life of the believer. You and I simply cannot grow to understand the Bible, grow in grace, grow in knowledge of the voice of the Lord, and grow in spiritual giftings unless we do the things God has already taught us to do.

Leaders must lead based on the vision they have received from God. The congregation must know the Bible and do what it says to do.

The last piece of this is to blend it together in community. The more mature folks work alongside the less mature, helping them to see through service what it means to put the word of God into practice. Mentoring isn’t then reduced to a 1:1 relationship that only comes about through much wrangling, but it defines how the community lifeblood of the church flows, as it should always occur on a community scale. When the community of the local church then catches the vision of God given through the leadership, Christian Education finds its fulfillment. Great things happen. People grow deep in Christ. The local church blooms and prospers, as does the greater Church Universal.

So many times this ideal fails because we fail to understand that it must and always be a process that depends on everyone doing his or her part. Leaders must draw close to God enough to see what He is doing. The congregants must be willing to put what they learn in the Bible into practice. And the greater community, both leaders and nonleaders, must be working together toward a common goal.

We can have such a practice in our churches if we wished to. But I believe that too few of us do. Satisfied with a snack, we miss the feast. And worse, we come to believe that the snack is all there is.

Preaching for Results


Jared Wilson at The Gospel-Driven Church pointed out six framing questions for preaching the word as suggested by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I think this list is outstanding, but I also think it is missing a critically important #7. The list:

1. The Biblical Question: What does Scripture say?

To answer this we need to check translations, do our word studies, and find out exactly what words best convey the meaning of Scripture.

2. The Theological Question: What does Scripture mean?

Here we need to interpret what is said, which requires commentaries, cultural background studies, etc. At this phase, John Glynn’s Commentary and Reference Survey is a must-have for every preacher and teacher. He rates all of the best commentaries and other reference material on various books of the Bible and theological topics.

3. The Memorable Question: What is my hook?

A word, image, concept, doctrine, emotion, or person needs to be the hook that is woven through the sermon. Without a unifying hook, the sermon will not be memorable for the hearer and will end up seeming like a number of disjointed thoughts.

4. The Apologetical Question: Why do we resist this truth?

Here we are assuming that people will not simply embrace God’s truth but fight it with their thoughts and/or actions because they are sinners who, like Romans 1:18 says, suppress the truth. So, we attempt to predict their objections so that we can answer them and remove their resistance to get them to embrace God’s truth for their life. This part of the sermon must be confrontational and often results in people walking out, standing up to argue, and sending nasty emails, all of which indicates you’ve hit a nerve like God wants you to. The real fight begins at this point and a preacher needs to come with his hands up looking for an opening much like a boxer. The issue here is uncovering the idols that people have and breaking their resistance to the truth of the gospel. This is also accomplished by co-opting their cultural hopes and presenting the gospel as the only answer to their deepest longing.

5. The Missional Question: Why does this matter?

We need to connect all that we have said to a missional purpose for our lives, families, church, and ultimately God’s glory. Something may be true but if people do not find it to also be important, they tend not to act on it. On this point I like to connect Scripture to the character of God, nature of the gospel, our mission in our city, and the quality of our lives both individually and collectively as a city of God within our city.

6. The Christological Question: How is Jesus the hero/savior?

The Bible is one story in which Jesus is the hero. Therefore, to properly teach/preach the Bible we have to continually lift Him up as the hero. Any sermon in which the focus is not on the person and work of Jesus will lack spiritual authority and power because the Holy Spirit will not bless the teaching of any hero other than Jesus.

Like I said, great stuff.

But I also think there’s a glaring omission.

As I look around the Church in America today, I see and hear a lot of preaching that is nothing more than pop psychology packaged in spiritual terms. It’s Christianity as self-help therapy, stripped of the cross, the blood, sin, redemption, and the Lord. In truth, it is no gospel at all.

On the other hand, I see and hear sermons that contain the full Gospel of grace. Yet something is still missing. Curiously, the item that is missing is the one item that previously mentioned pop-psych sermons address very well. And that’s to ask

7. The Praxis Question: So what are the next steps toward daily living out this truth in your life and mine?

If you read my post “The Question No One Wants to Ask…” you’ll know that our preaching today has not been very effective at making disciples. I give some reasons why in that post and note what we can do to help address the problem. I think what Driscoll lists above is very valuable at fixing the problem also. He’s just missing that seventh step.

The #5 Missional Question comes close to #7, but it’s still too conceptual. People in the seats are dying to know how the Gospel works in a practical way in their modern lives. They might hear the world’s best theological explanation of the cross, but if no one will tell them what to do to make that explanation real in their own lives, the message becomes like seed sown on hardened, baked soil.

Those of us in the seats today are clueless. Seriously, we are. Most of the foundation of Christianity that undergirded this nation is gone. We’ve got people today who don’t know what a hymn is. Even if what was in the past was merely a reflection of American civil religion, at least people understood that language and what to do with it. Today, few do.

Folks today have to be shown. They need to have someone tell them in detail what to do. Just as the Paul explicitly told the Philippian jailer what he needed to do to be saved, preachers today must give some idea what the next step should be. 'Jesus & the Rich Young Ruler' by Heinrich Hoffman“Jesus is Lord!” Yes, now what must we do next? “Sin kills!” Yes, now what must we do next?

Jesus, whenever He spoke with individuals or small groups, absolutely taught this way. Consider His example of washing His disciples’ feet. I think they got that message of love and service pretty clearly because Jesus showed them what to do next. Or take the negative example of the rich, young ruler who asked the high concept question about the commandments. Jesus responded by telling him what the next step should be in response. Jesus left no doubt as to what to do next; the ruler simply didn’t want to do it.

I’m not sure we’re preaching what to do next in Gospel-centered churches. I think we sometimes spend too much time filling people with knowledge they can’t figure out how to use. But if the difference between the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 is what they did and didn’t do, then the people in the seats have to know what the godly next step is for what they have learned. They must have a clearly directed outlet for praxis.

Not only this, but as Jesus showed, people need something else that very few preachers are willing to offer—and that’s for the preacher to model the truth so obviously in true servant fashion that no one can miss how the message is supposed to be lived out.

It’s one thing to say that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, quite another to show how that should inform our evangelism, and quite another again to have the preacher model how it’s done. Yet I would guess that the number of churches where that occurs in all three steps can be listed in the single digits percentage-wise. I suspect that in the biggest churches with the most famous pastors it’s impossible for the average Joe to even scheduled a meeting with that pastor, much less hang out with him doing door-to-door evangelism together.

We need that #7 question. And we need our leaders to draw alongside the people and show them how it’s done.